The fourth "Future of the Internet" survey is now available from the PEW Internet and American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. In this latest survey we find that Google will not make us stupid. In fact, our reading, writing and knowledge sharing capabilities will be improved. But that's only the beginning.
Quick Notes -- The Process
The Future of the Internet survey and resulting paper is part of a Pew Research Center series. It takes a look at current attitudes regarding the future of the Internet. The survey is conducted online -- 895 respondents this time around -- with technology stakeholders and critics alike. The survey was conducted from December 2, 2009 to January 11, 2010
The intent of the survey is to find overall expectations "of social, political and economic change by 2020". This was done by providing 10 tension pairs. Each pair was made up of two different scenarios of how things would be in 2020, both with a common theme, but different outcome. The respondent had to select one scenario
Survey participants were informed that “it is likely you will struggle with most or all of the choices and some may be impossible to decide; but we hope that will inspire you to write responses that will explain your answer and illuminate important issues.”
To understand more about how the questionnaire was developed, who was chosen to participate and how the results were analyzed, you should read the report.
Google Will Not Make Us Stupid
The first scenario in the survey focused on a question Nicholas Carr wrote about in the Atlantic: does Google make us stupid by 2020? The majority responded with no, but then you are talking to Internet focused people. Why would they answer any other way?
A comment from respondent Hal Varian, a chief economist at Google,
"Google will make us more informed. The smartest person in the world could well be behind a plow in China or India. Providing universal access to information will allow such people to realize their full potential, providing benefits to the entire world.”
What most are saying in the supplied comments is that Google, and the Internet in general, takes over our need to memorize information because it's so readily accessible. In turn, we have more time to analyze and evaluate, create or innovate. Seems a good trade-off, don't you think?
Of course, it's not quite as simple as that, which many point out in the survey. Information is not all the same.
“The challenge is in separating that wheat from the chaff, as it always has been with any other source of mass information, which has been the case all the way back to ancient institutions like libraries. Those users (of Google, cable TV, or libraries) who can do so efficiently will beat the odds, becoming ‘smarter’ and making better choices. However, the unfortunately majority will continue to remain, as Carr says, stupid.” – Christopher Saunders, managing editor internetnews.com
The Internet Will Enhance our Reading, Writing and Rendering of Knowledge
Of the 895 responses, 65% believe that by 2020, the Internet will have enhanced and improved our ability to read, write and share knowledge.